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Achieving a Healthier Work-Life Balance

In light of the furor over how to cope with just a single extra second of time, we begin to understand why so many of us become confused with time management issues. Particularly vexing is the issue of whether we can afford to take time off.
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Conceptual one way signs on work life balance
Conceptual one way signs on work life balance

A "leap second" will be added to the world's standard time on June 30, 2015. Yes, you read that correctly...a whole second. The International Earth Rotation and Reference Systems Service is the agency that keeps tabs on the spinning of the planet. (Who knew?) A brief explanation: Our planet's rate of rotation can speed up or slow down because of tides and changes within its core. To keep time uniform, an extra second is periodically added to Coordinated Universal Time, the world's benchmark time standard.

The last leap second was added in 2012 and according to an article in Wired magazine it didn't go so well. As a result, the U.S. and several other countries want to eliminate leap seconds altogether, claiming that they are too disruptive to critically precise systems used for navigation, communication and many other services.

In light of the furor over how to cope with just a single extra second of time, we begin to understand why so many of us become confused with time management issues. Particularly vexing is the issue of whether we can afford to take time off. This conundrum appears to be reflected in a growing trend in America of not using earned vacation days.

Expedia has been conducting studies on vacation deprivation since the year 2000. In 2013 they surveyed 8,535 people across 24 countries and 5 continents about their vacation practices. In the U.S., while 59 percent of Americans reported feeling vacation deprived, their actions did not match their complaints. The survey revealed that Americans left an average of four vacation days unused. This was twice as many as the previous year. Tallied up, that's more than 500 million vacation days lost. The vacation deprivation study also uncovered an additional revelation: "For many people vacation is just an office away from the office." In the U.S., 67 percent of adults, "constantly, regularly or sometimes check work emails and voicemails while on vacation." Ten percent of Americans reported that they can never relax while on vacation.

Achieving and maintaining a healthy work-life balance is no simple task. Juggling the demands of work and personal obligations is an ongoing challenge that can negatively impact our health. When our work-life balance is skewed we become fatigued inside and out. Without awareness, this often results in working harder, but not smarter. The less productive we are, the more compelled we feel to spend additional hours at work. As we continue to sacrifice time with loved ones, we can begin to feel left out and distant in our significant relationships. Often, as we repeatedly work more hours, we are sometimes given additional responsibilities, compounding the imbalance between home life and work life. Inevitably, our healthy lifestyle habits are put on hold. They are replaced instead with grab and go food choices, lack of exercise and little-to-no time set aside in which to de-stress.

Robert Brooks, PhD., co-author of The Power of Resilience: Achieving Balance, Confidence, and Personal Strength in Your Life writes, "A lot of people are having a more difficult time finding balance in their lives because there have been cutbacks or layoffs where they work. They're afraid it might happen to them, so they're putting in more hours. But even if you don't have much control over the hours you have to work, you can ask yourself, "In what other ways am I bringing greater enjoyment into my life?" Focus your time and attention on things you can control."

Tips for Promoting Life-Work Balance

Build in Daily Stress-Free Breaks

De-stressing is not a luxury. For optimal health, it is a necessity. When we feel better, we do better. Start by exchanging time spent on the Web, social media sites, etc. with scheduled morning and/or evening sessions. Try some yoga, meditation and deep relaxation. (see our recommended stress management practices). Follow the philosophy and practice of my 72 years-young friend who has been an athlete his entire life. At the start of each week he pencils in periodic rest breaks on his daily calendar. His motto is "Rest is training too."

Say Yes To Receiving Support

Often we feel overwhelmed with too many to-dos and too little time in which to accomplish them. Allow others to help you, answering the following in the affirmative: ...When a trusted friend offers to pick up the kids from school. ...When the budding entrepreneur youngster who lives next door offers to mow your lawn. ...When a neighbor asks if they can help you with errands or drive your elderly Mom to her next doctor visit. ...When a friend calls to invite you to lunch.

Schedule Time in With Loved Ones

Take out your planner and write in when you will spend dedicated time with family and friends each week. In her book, Super Competent: The Six Keys to Perform at Your Productive Best, author Laura Stark writes, "It helps to be proactive about scheduling." She plans a specific activity with her family every Sunday afternoon. She explains that when she isn't specific, "time tends to get frittered away and the weekend may end without us spending quality time together." Planning dinner out with friends or a weekly date night with a significant other renews both body and soul. In the process, our spirits are replenished as we are reminded of the importance of these cherished relationships that feed and nourish us and are so central to our well-being.

Success should not be confused with the size of one's income or bragging rights for how long and hard we have worked. At the end of our lives, few of us will be wishing that we had spent more time at the office. Looking back, true success will be measured by our balanced efforts to love and be loved, while striving to live a diligently compassionate and responsible life. Achievements resonate as hollow, lonely victories when they are not balanced with and tempered by the ability to relax, absorb and savor what brings us joy, meaning and interpersonal connection.

Brian Dyson, former CEO of Coca-Cola Enterprises, sums it all up succinctly in his now famous and oft- quoted 30 second speech on how to successfully achieve a healthy work-life balance. Here it is: "Imagine life as a game in which you are juggling some five balls in the air. You name them--work, family, health, friends, and spirit and you're keeping all of these in the air. You will soon understand that work is a rubber ball. If you drop it, it will bounce back. But the other four balls--family, health, friends and spirit are made of glass. If you drop one of these, they will be irrevocably scuffed, marked, nicked, damaged or even shattered. They will never be the same. You must understand that and strive for balance in your life."

May that extra leap second be put to good use as we learn daily how to fill both our hours and our hearts equally with an enriching life-work balance.

What helps you to maintain balance when juggling life and work obligations?

Have a questions regarding transforming your way of eating and living, Ask Dr. Ornish!